Applied Energy, Vol.220, 681-704, 2018
Numerical analysis of experimental studies of methane hydrate formation in a sandy porous medium
We analyse numerically an earlier experimental study that involved the formation of methane hydrates by the excess water method in a small reactor filled with a sandy porous medium, and seek to address questions about the type of the hydration reaction and the phase heterogeneity in the resulting hydrate-bearing sand. Using a fine discretization describing the reactor assembly, the experimental process is faithfully replicated numerically. The multi-stage process of hydrate formation is subdivided in 7 steps. The experimental data from the continuously monitored pressure and temperature during each step are used for comparison against the numerical predictions, the identification of the dominant processes and the determination of the associated parameters through a history-matching process that minimizes deviations between observations and simulation results. The results of this first-ever study on this subject demonstrate unequivocally that the hydration reaction is a kinetic (as opposed to an equilibrium) process, and that the spatial distributions of the various phases (aqueous, gas and hydrate) at the end of the formation process are strongly heterogeneous. This has serious implications in simulation studies of hydrate dissociation that assume uniform initial phase saturation distributions. The history matching process indicates that (a) the system behaviour is sensitive to some flow parameters (porosity and irreducible water saturation) only during the first water injection, (b) it is insensitive to the sand intrinsic permeability during all steps of the study, and (c) thermal processes dominate after the first water injection, yielding estimates of the thermal properties of the sand and of time-variable key parameters of the kinetic reaction.